Thursday, March 20, 2014

There Is No Score

So I've been sharing this conversation about the nature of competition with my friend in Atlanta, Scott Shetler. He has consulted powerlifters, swimmers, skinny endurance athletes putting on muscle, and overweight people putting on endurance, all based on mechanics and broad-based health improvement. Over the last few years, I've discovered (finally admitted) that the limiting factor in my kettlebell performance is not my time spent training bells, but my general fitness.

For me, personally, training just KB sport lifts and running leaves me with back pain and stagnant competition scores. So all this raises an interesting issue of how much of ourselves we devote to sport beyond the needs of health. If I were exercising to keep myself healthy, it would look much different than this. I'd have a pullup and dip station of some sort, maybe homemade. I'd have a weighted vest for running and hiking. I might have a single 24kg KB for goblet squats and odd handling. I'd exercise seriously 2 or 3 days a week, plus runs and daily walks with my dog, and I'd stretch and sleep a lot more. The rest of all this is for reasons other than health.

I have heard this phrased so many different ways. "Where good sport begins, good health ends", Dan John and others. "There are tremendously strong people who walk around every day in pain", Kenneth Jay. The term "Law of Diminishing Returns" has a medical analog called Minimum Effective Dose (MED), the dosage required to induce change and no more. There is progressively less benefit to overdosing on Tylenol, caffeine, running, bench press, crunches, or KB snatches, and every one of them can either help you or hurt you.

For those of us who train for our health, the sport is a convenient by-product. Someone else does what we do for health and may test themselves against us, or even participate alongside us for moral support while we test ourselves. That is a social experience, the practice of health instead of a goal to be pursued. For those happy few, there is no score.

2 sets 24kg LC @4rpm
2 sets 20kg LC @6rpm
2 sets 16kg LC @8rpm
Chalk the bells, sweep the room, stretch

Old man, old broom
Daily ritual, sweep the whole room
Shake the mats, dust the corners
Feng Shui, all things in order

Friday, March 14, 2014

When Gods Lift Among Men

While Girevoy Sport (GS) has a list of competition records and many unsanctioned records, performed with shorter times or heavier bells outside regular competition. When Denisov lifts 40kg Long Cycle for 5 minutes, the video may be called a "world record", and there's not really any public problem with that. However, if you or I or some average lifter posted a high-speed set with 12kg bells and called it a world record, no one would care. And they rightfully should not.

I have a problem with champions performing sprint sets with light bells at competitions. 26rpm snatch, 15rpm long cycle and the like don't have any of the form and stringency required when the rest of us attempt rank. That rank is a hard-won badge of honor for us, awarded for hard work. For a Pro to compete in the Amateur class in a regional event and win all the Amateur trophies lacks decorum, in my opinion. To do so under judging standards not consistent with the sport is a failure of integrity by the hosting organization.

Note: As an amateur American GS lifter, I want to emphasize that this is by no means a personal criticism of individuals sampled, but of this notion of champions and stunt performances. When I see a banner and a scoreboard, I should be able to use this performance for educational purposes.

Champions are role models, like it or not. When a champion lifts well outside his rank for entertainment purposes, it should simply be called an exhibition. At many WKC events, Ivan Denisov has performed exhibitions of 5min sets with 32kg or 40kg bells, not competing directly with the local amateurs. And, I applaud him for it. In this clip from the 2014 California Open, Sergei Merkulin snatches 32kg, and Aleksander Khvostov snatches 40kg, both well out of range of lifters like myself. It's inspiring to watch and valuable to study.

By contrast, this is a set by Denis Vasiliev at the OKC 2014 California Open, at a pace of about 15rpm with 24kg bells. I have issues with the form on display here. Vasiliev is capable of beautiful, textbook technique with 32kg and 40kg, but this does not match his usual quality.

I have the utmost respect for Vasiliev, but this is not a competition set. None of these reps came to any controlled pause at the top. Some barely achieved legal joint extension, but he did them and the judge counted them. This was applauded at the event and in social media, but it was completely not legal in most organizations. Contrast this 24kg set with the precision shown in Denisov's absolute world record set, performed in open competition, and tell me which event payed greater respect to the sport.

There's value in sprinting through the motions for conditioning, but not on the platform. There are two separate arguments to be made here, one about physically consistent standards, and my point about socially consistent standards. There shouldn't be no-counts for amateurs and applause for professionals for the same work.